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Sunday, 20 September 2015





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Restoring Bungamati

Sri Lanka’s Rs. 250 million pledge to rebuild historic landmarks in quake-devastated Nepal:

Quake-damaged Bungamati village -

“A classic medieval village –one of the prettiest in the Valley,” is how the famous travellers’ guide, Lonely Planet, describes Bungamati, a picturesque Newar village in Nepal’s Lalitpur District.

A village that overlooks the famous Bagmati River, Bungamati was once an awe-inspiring sight, fabled for it historic and cultural significance. Today, it is a heap of rubble, a site of devastation and displacement that still awaits an opportunity to rebuild itself to its former glory.

Struck by the devastating earthquake of April 25, Bungamati was lucky enough not to lose any lives but what was lost, according to archaeologists and historians, may never be recovered. In losing 805 of its original buildings and homes, much of its architectural history had been lost forever. “It is our history that lies there today, buried and broken,” said Kunda Dixit, Editor of Nepali Times.

Villagers, who have been volunteering their time to clear the site, agree with Dixit’s words. They know that the quake had taken so much away from them, including their gods and their dwellings. Five months after the quake, they eagerly await reconstruction to commence as their country struggles to approve a new constitution bringing with it, violence and devastation, besides political instability to the former Hindu kingdom.

“Around 80% of Bungamati’s beauty and identity were destroyed. It was an architectural beauty, which had remained an important place of study for students of arts and architecture. But the government’s focus is elsewhere,” added Dixit, a well-known political analyst.

Guardian deity

Bungamati Temple

Amidst the heartbreaking rubble, one finds the 16 Century Machhendranath temple, a tribute to Nepal’s great craftsmanship, now reduced to a pile of bricks lying in mute pain. Five months after the great quake, it is still difficult for the local people, who offer genuine insight into the rituals associated with this historic site and mourn the loss of their temple– to accept that their beautiful Machchendranath temple, dedicated to the patron deity of the Katmandu Valley, could suffer such destruction.

A glimpse into Bungamati

History has it that during the fabled Licchavi Kingdom, the area was called Bugayumi and later renamed as Bungapattan, during the Malla Kingdom.

Machchendranath is the guardian deity of the valley and his beautiful and large temple is the deity’s home for six months of the year. The rest is spent in Patan. The process of carrying the deity’s heavy image from one temple to the other in a beautiful procession in what is known as Rato Machchendranath (also known as Bungadeva), is among the most spectacular annual festivals in the Katmandu Valley.

For the Hindus, Rato Machhendranath is the reincarnation of Lord Shiva while for the Buddhists, he is the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the aspiring Buddha. “All in all, important to everyone in the Valley, religiously and culturally,” said Anshula Karki, a young student from the Katmandu University Centre for Arts and Design, associated with a technical assessment of the devastated site. The student group has been engaged in a variety of research – ranging from research, documentation and infographics.

Following a call by the Nepal Government for assistance, Sri Lanka has proposed to help reconstruct this temple of beauty, in keeping with the reconstruction requirements of a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.

According to former chief of the National Archives of Nepal and heritage conservationist, Bhim Prasad Nepal, it is important to understand the historical and cultural value of the monuments when reconstructing. “They should be restored in keeping with their originality, authenticity and beauty,” he noted.

All seven sites declared by UNESCO as world heritage sites located in the Katmandu Valley suffered significant damage in the April 25 earthquake.

They include the world famous Swayambhunath stupa, Changu Narayan temple and the Durbar Squares of Patan, Basantapur and Bhaktapur. The other two heritage sites –Boudhanath stupa and Pashupatinath temple have been spared the ravages of the quake.

According to Bhesh Narayan Dahal who heads the Department of Archeology in Nepal, the plan is to restore the sites within the next five years. ‘It won’t be easy. These are not mere buildings but pieces of history. Each brick that was lost cannot be replaced. Our loss cannot be recovered, even when we rebuild them,” he said.

The Department now employs a large number of engineers and architects to do the preliminary work, in preparation of the work to start soon. Meanwhile, several countries have come forward to help rebuild the heritage sites as well as monuments and Sri Lanka was among the first to pledge support.

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, the Sri Lankan Government pledged Rs. 250 million to rebuild the Bungmati temple and the Rato Macchindranath temple in Lalitpur as well as the Anandakuti Vihar in Swayambhu area, according to Dahal. “That is a wonderful expression of shared heritage,’ he said with appreciation.

According to his Department’s estimates, 750 historical, cultural and religious monuments in 20 districts had been damaged by the April 25 earthquake as well as the aftershocks.

Among the 750 documented sites, 133 have been completely destroyed while 617 have sustained partial damage. Nepali Rs.20.56 billion was the first estimate for the reconstruction of the damaged monuments, according to Nepal’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment report prepared by the National Planning Commission.

“We need to move on, we need to rebuild. What Sri Lanka offered is special. We bound by a shared history, culture and religion,” Dahal said.

Pix by Bikash Karki


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